Customer Complaints Can Make You More Money

Sometimes it seems that customers complain for the smallest reasons.

Your product is red and they like blue. They hate your company’s name. Your packaging is too light.

It’s easy to ignore them, right? After all you know your business better than anyone.

But what if, just this once, they’re right? Could listening to their complaints make you more money?

Marie Moody of Stella & Chewy’s had just such an experience:

Originally we packaged our foods in transparent bags. In fact, transparency became our guiding philosophy. Today we offer open plant tours, publish our meat sources and test every batch of food for salmonella and E. coli using codes that can match each bag to its lab result online.

I was also fielding complaints about ice crystals on the food. Ice crystals form when the air temperature changes. Practically every frozen food item develops ice crystals by the time it hits the retail store because of slight temperature changes during transport. For this reason, most frozen foods are packaged in opaque bags or boxes. Studies have proved that ice crystals have little, if any, effect on either the quality or the taste of the food. Basically, there’s nothing wrong with a little ice.

So I ignored the complaints. After all, I told myself, we were better than competitors that wouldn’t even reveal their products. We weren’t hiding anything.

In 2007, the popularity of frozen pet food soared after some of the bigger American pet-food manufacturers issued recalls. Some of their products had been contaminated by melamine, a chemical found in an ingredient many of those companies imported from China. Thousands of dogs and cats died from the tainted food, so consumers sought smaller pet-food vendors that they hoped would have better control over their ingredients. Suddenly we had more competition.

Our sales kept growing, but not as fast as those of our rivals. Retailers told me that consumers who were new to the frozen pet-food category — crucial customers for sales growth — were choosing products packaged in opaque bags. Hearing this over the phone from a store employee or from the occasional customer was one thing.

However, when I visited the stores and forced myself to consider my product objectively, I had to agree: The ice crystals undercut the look I wanted. The food didn’t appear fresh; it looked as if a blizzard had hit the inside of the bag.

We switched to opaque bags and overhauled our in-plant freezers so that the food would freeze faster, resulting in smaller ice crystals. Customers responded: In 2009 Stella & Chewy’s was sold in 2,500 stores across the country. Annual revenues should exceed $5 million this year.

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